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The Great Divide:

The Great Divide: South Africa after Apartheid”

Taking a closer look at the remnants and ramifications of race and segregation in South Africa– and how it compares to the United States, today.

By Tamila Kianfard

Arriving in Cape Town International Airport, after a thirty-seven hour voyage was something I couldn’t have prepared for. Aside from my swollen feet, being over-exhausted, jet-lagged, desperate for a nap, and being in dire need of a hot shower—I was in a foreign place. I stood out where most residents mainly fit into one of the three tick boxes: black, white, or coloured? Yep, as a Southern American—that one caught me completely off guard, and with our history, sent me straight down memory lane and all the way to 5th grade Black History Month—the only time that specific jargon is relevant, but berated.

Then I encountered my first South African in South Africa. Granted it was the lady at the visa checkpoint asking me why I was even in South Africa, and while we didn’t go into song-and-dance about my visiting her home country—I was absolutely floored by her especially unique look, and naturally had to inquire about her ethnic background. Probably not the wisest move in this day and age, but when I say this woman was “uniquely” stunning, I’m not exaggerating. She was so incredibly different from anything I had ever seen. Her eyes were piercing blue with green hues, and her skin was the shade of brown that girls, literally, burn for. Let’s not even begin to try to describe the perfection that was her hair color. For kicks, we’ll attempt to simply call it ‘golden.’ The only way I knew to describe her unique look is that her features were closest to that of someone whom I would recognize, and would probably widely be considered in my hometown in the States, as “mixed” race.

(Sheepishly, I learned the term “mixed” is not only inappropriate, but also highly offensive to describe “coloured” people in South Africa.) It was put so sweetly to kindly educate this one foreigner, “You mix a cake, and colour the world.” I appreciated the profound quip this older, wiser, South African ‘Mama’ was offering me, and I took it.

Ironically, the populous of South Africa mostly fall under “Black,” and what most Americans view as derogatory: Coloured.

It took me some time to be able to adopt this new vocabulary as a rule, but I quickly realized that while the vocabulary may have been difficult to adjust to, the division between the color classes was even more frightening. To understand how and why these color distinctions are so prominent in the social interactions, and overall dynamic, of South African culture—presented the real challenge.

I lived in an area where the divide was so mindboggling, that to be able to grasp an idea of just how much of a gap was present, one had to turn to the dehumanizing fact that the elite’s pets had more proof of existence than the children living in townships. In certain places, like Hout Bay, people who put their dogs in doggy daycare, had “Repawt” cards, and other daily check-ins, while many adults and children in townships didn’t have birth certificates, and many of them are still unaccounted for.

The plot thickened, as I couldn’t help the sad realization that washed over me while I sat there, on my American pedestal—this country was reflecting my own in many ways. In shocking disbelief, I realized the parallels between South Africa and the American South, are way too close for comfort. I wondered how something of the past so prominently haunted and dictated the future. How could the Rainbow nation with such a colorful background, fighting segregation, apartheid, with Madiba—still be so divided? The worst part: The Mother City was a mirroring parallel to the place I dearly call home—Atlanta, Georgia.

What was even more daunting was the fact that, the country I call home is one of the most powerfully lucrative in the world, and yet, evidently not powerful enough to fight racism or poverty. At that moment, I couldn’t help but to think how many thousands of times, over, both, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had tossed in their eternal beds. I am still shaken by the thought, and this revelation.

As less than a handful of Americans in Cape Town at the time, I was, shockingly, one of the few Americans who recognized this disturbing connection. As if I wasn’t traumatized enough, and now to add my own ethno-Southern roots– most of the other Americans were from more liberal areas of the United States, which, I noticed, strangely enough, actually seemed impartial to what was going on. Not to say that they didn’t care, or that liberals, democrats should care more, but they do tend to vocalize it more—so where was that initiation? Why was it absent in a place it was needed most? Why are there as many people starving in the world today, as there are people who claim to care about them?

Have we desensitized even some of the most sensitive in the world? This is not to imply blame, but more to admit confusion on what direction we have gone in the world. What is our direction? Have human lives become so worthless that we can sit back and watch while our fellow humans starve in the cycle in which they were born, chained to the shackles of the situations they can’t get out of because there is no way out provided?

Working and volunteering in the legal systems, human rights commissions, and battered women and children’s shelters in Cape Town, one thing was absolutely apparent to me:

That many people are not failing the system; the system is failing them. That many people are not flawed; the system is flawed.

The 16 year old–going to jail, tainting his future with a past, because he can’t afford the cheese and bread he shoplifted, desperately, to feed himself and his family, and now must pay a legal fine that is triple the amount of money he couldn’t afford to begin with– is not to blame. The woman who stands up to her abusive, alcoholic husband, and gets beaten in front her children, the woman who can’t get a job, to get out of the horrible situation, because she looks “too rough”– is not to blame. The children who are brought up in that environment, picking up only what they know, what they see, and what they are shown, and reflect it—are not to blame. These are those cycles that one must honestly ask oneself, “What would I do in that situation?”

What is an even more grim reality is the fact that the physical divide between people, is more based on race than proximity. In layman’s terms: the proof is in the pudding—a black man from the American South, eerily, understands to some varying degree, the hardships of a black man in South Africa, without ever setting foot in the other’s country. This is not coincidence. It is systemic.

We must do better. We must learn to walk a mile in the other’s shoes, towards each other, in hopes of meeting halfway, to find a balance that would remedy the casual indifference we live in today. Not just for South Africa, not just for the United States, but also for the entire world, and future generations.

Let’s “colour“ the world, properly—staying within the lines—of dignity and respect.

This article is dedicated to all the incredible individuals I had the pleasure of meeting in Kaapstad. You have touched my heart, forever. Dankie, Dankie, Dankie.

Tamila Kianfard is a human rights advocate, focusing on empowering women’s rights everywhere Tamila Kianfard she goes—from Women’s Freedom Forum in Washington DC to St. Anne’s Women’s Shelter in South Africa. She has a BA in International Affairs from Kennesaw State University, with a concentration on diplomacy and development, specifically in the Middle East and Africa.

In her spare time, she’s pretty much a mermaid (yes, really) with a deep love for protecting our oceans and Recycling—she [shamelessly] urges everyone she meets to do the same.

To Be Or Not To Be

To Be Or Not To Be

by Marco M. Pardi

A woman’s right to choose an abortion is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity….And when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a full adult human being responsible for her own choices.” Ruth Bader Ginsberg

The cemetery of the victims of human cruelty in our century is extended to include yet another vast cemetery, that of the unborn.” Pope John Paul II

Terms:

Abort – To stop in the developmental stages.

Spontaneous abortion – (medical term). Commonly called Miscarriage. Occurs through various circumstances, not necessarily resulting from intentional human agency.

Induced abortion – an act of human agency.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Once again the United States is in the throes of debate over induced abortion. This time appears to be more inclusive and more likely to include societal violence. It is more inclusive as it appears to be a more pronounced conflict of political ideologies conflated with religious views and scientific realizations not known in the debates of fifty years ago. And, once again, the legally binding decision For or Against the validity of the long established Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision is in the hands of a few Supreme Court Justices, now numerically superior on the side of the ultra right wing group that rushed through their confirmation.

Fifty years ago, as a young college Anthropology instructor, I was asked to take part in a public debate on the Roe v. Wade case then being decided. I did so. Of course, I found an irony in the case: I was unfamiliar with the term roe as a human’s name; I had always thought of it as the eggs of a fish especially when still enclosed in the ovarian membrane. (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). Although I saw certain parallels I realized no one else seemed to so I didn’t mention that. Nonetheless, I based my presentation on logic, as would anyone arguing a legal case. I will do so again here, with the proviso that logic properly done does not have a predetermined outcome. I will also say I will not attempt to present a full and comprehensive legal case for either side (You’re welcome).

Debates on topics such as this commonly circle around some entanglement of logic and emotion, often foundering on the latter as the former is less inflammatory and thereby loses strength. Thus, the outcome is often a hardening of pre-existent feelings more than a bridge to cognitive understanding.

Mindful of that, we should remember that the determinant legal issue of reproductive freedom is being debated in court, not just in private salons or other meeting places. Thus, as in any court case, assertions must be based upon and supported by evidence. Appeals to beliefs and feelings will be ruled inadmissible, even inflammatory. Nonetheless, we should at least look at those appeals as they are often introduced with the knowledge that even when ruled out they have found their way into a juror’s mind. We may begin by portraying a court interaction as A for assertion and R for rebuttal.

A: Life is a God given gift and must be protected and preserved.

R: The assertion claims as self-evident that there is a God and that this God gives gifts. According to honest theologians this is a compound conjecture; an If connected to a Maybe, and is inadmissible. There is no evidence for either.

A: Human life begins at: conception; or presence of a heartbeat; or detection of movement (“quickening in the womb”), and stopping the development is the taking of a human life.

R: The markers cited in the premise are arbitrary and apparently based on theological interpretation. The subordinate clause in the assertion is dependent upon the validity of the premise. Medical science stipulates to the potential for development of human life at those markers, not the factual actuality of its presence. The premise presupposes a developmental outcome and is therefore conjecture.

The reader is free to propose other such assertions, however it possibly now seems clear such assertions, based in theology, have no legal footing. It should be noted that at no time are the assertions cited above declared materially wrong; they are disqualified because there is zero supporting evidence and are based on faith. They may in fact be true, but the United States is a secular society, not a theocracy, and faith – belief in an assertion for which there is no evidence, has no standing.

Moving to the legal framework for debate:

A: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a “strict Constitutionalist”, asserted that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. The implication is that since abortion is not a federal issue it should be decided by States, and Roe V. Wade was improperly heard and decided.

R: Justice Alito conveniently ignored the fact that, to date, there have been 27 Amendments to the Constitution addressing issues not specified in the original Constitution.

A: The issue before the Supreme Court solely concerns the question of what legal venue is entitled to legislate and adjudicate issues of abortion.

R: False. As will be explained in Discussion, the implications flowing from the patchwork of State courts and legislatures include and affect far more than just abortion.

Discussion:

The efforts to remove the freedom of women to control their own bodies including reproductive functions and outcomes are by no means universally held among the dominant religions in the United States. Nearly twice as many evangelical Protestants (63%) oppose legal abortion compared to mainline Protestants (33%), according to the most recent survey of abortion views by faith performed by Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses and nearly as many Mormons (70%) say abortion should be illegal. In contrast, 83% of American Jews and 55% of American Muslims say abortion should be legal.

American Catholics are largely split, with 56% supportive of legal abortion and 42% opposed, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey found.

As of this writing there are 26 of 50 States which have either passed prohibitive “trigger” laws, designed to go into effect should the Supreme Court strike down Roe V. Wade, or are currently developing such laws. In several cases the laws are such that, before a woman even knows she is pregnant she is subject to a heavy monetary fine and lengthy prison sentence if convicted of taking an action which terminated her pregnancy even if resulting from rape or incest. In addition, personnel ranging from her doctor to her driver, should she obtain transportation to a health clinic for purposes of abortion, also face heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment. The same applies to her if she obtains a medically prescribed pill, even by mail, which might terminate her pregnancy. The root of these laws is the pronouncement that the fertilized egg; or the small collection of cells emitting a nerve action (called “heartbeat”); or the fetus long before viability outside the womb is “a person”. In short, Where does life begin? Yet, medical science is far from agreed on any answer to that. Certainly the potential for life, under the right circumstances, is there, but the actuality is debatable. The same (potential) could be said of the gametes carried by either sex. If prevented from uniting under the “right circumstances” they are expelled and die, through menstruation, nocturnal emission, or other means. Are these processes then homicide? Surgeons operating to remove cancerous tumors strive to achieve “clean margins”, meaning removal of neighboring healthy cells. But we have long had the ability to clone individuals from such healthy cells, though ethical considerations have stopped – for now – cloning of humans. Should these surgeons be convicted of murder?

Several States are also considering the banning of certain forms of contraception. Some forms, such as barrier methods, prevent conception. And, yes, some allow conception but prevent implantation of the fertilized egg. What appears overlooked is that some of the latter forms of contraception are prescribed for serious medical conditions unrelated to prevention of pregnancy. Banning those forms would effectively doom females afflicted with those conditions to serious and perhaps fatal consequences.

The Declaration of Independence strongly declares the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But whose life? A fertilized cell? A collection of cells? Or a female capable of child bearing, albeit if she herself is a child? Unwanted pregnancy can and often does produce a cascade effect including but not limited to fear, shame, depression, shunning by family and friends, failure to complete school, loss of or inability to obtain gainful employment (a recently completed study by a consortium of economists found that pregnancy reduces a woman’s income potential by 30% while increasing her costs dramatically), a child or children raised in dramatically sub-optimal familial, social, medical, and educational conditions, and greatly reduced lifelong potential for the child. “Life”? Check. “Liberty”? Liberty was taken from the mother and therefore from the child. “Pursuit of happiness”? You’re kidding, right?

A corollary phenomenon overlooked by so many “Pro Life” people (actually, Pro Birth) is the almost complete overlap they share with those strongly advocating for reduction of “welfare” such as the WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program, free school meals, housing assistance, Medicaid and other programs addressing the poverty caused largely by inadequate opportunities for family planning.

I have written elsewhere of what I see as reasoning behind the “big money”, especially as funneled through the titular Republican Party to support the denial of freedom and the subjugation of women. A desperate labor pool will accept low wages, third world working conditions, no retirement funds, and job termination due to outsourcing or automation. A desperate labor pool will gladly volunteer for the “three hots and a cot” life in a military which can be summoned at any moment for wars of profit they will never share in. Not shareholders in the “defense industries”, they will reap only a meager separation pay, or retirement pay, and maybe a chance to get on the waiting list for Veterans Administration health care.

Regular readers of this site know I have often applied a name to this “reasoning”. But go ahead, apply one of your own. And while you are devising that name I would ask you to ask yourself if you want To Be that or do you choose Not To Be that.

Arrogance

Religious and Political Arrogance

By Br. Mark Dohle

All men have an equal share of pride; the only difference is in their ways and means of showing it.” LA ROCHEFOUCAULD 1680 Maxims

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Religious and Political Arrogance and Conceit

It is amazing how many people have the truth! Also how many trying to convince everyone else that they are wrong. Religious people have a tendency to believe that they are of the elect, and those who disagree with them, well, are not, and are dammed. In fact, if you are a Christian and belong to a denomination, or to an independent church, or just pray and worship at home, I can wager that in some Christian’s eyes, you are not of the elect, and are dammed.

Yes, it is wearisome.

It is the same in politics. While I believe that the vast majority of people do not identify with the extreme left or right, there is a large minority that does. They also damn each other along secular lines, which can be worse than being dammed by believers, at least in the United States, and Europe. Being canceled today in the ‘woke’ community is mercilessly allowing for no reconciliation.

I am not absenting myself from this human weakness and at times evil. Living in a society where church and state are one, while that arrangement can be troublesome, can also make it easier to live out one’s faith in peace since it is obvious to everyone who practices their faith what is true and right. The same goes for political beliefs, as long as no outside information or opinion is allowed. Today that is impossible for the most part.


The scriptures can help, but more often than not they can be troublesome since I believe we pick and choose what we are to quote and focus on. Mostly that which agrees with us in our preconceived beliefs.

Even the word ‘God’ can be problematic, loaded, and divisive. I do believe in ‘God’, in the revelation of Jesus Christ, but I have trouble when someone comes across saying that they ‘know’, and have the authority to judge and yes damn to outer darkness just about everyone.

When St. Paul talked about ‘Party Spirit’, it was not something good, and detrimental to the community. So believers and political pundits often get absorbed into this ‘Party Spirit’ which can lead to violence and even death. Perhaps the war in Ukraine can be called an extreme manifestation of that reality.

Paul lists the “fruit” (or offspring) of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. And while many of the behaviors listed in these verses are sexual sins (adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness), most of the behaviors listed are those that come from a sense of moral and religious superiority over others (hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders).” https://redeeminggod.com/flesh-galatians-5-19-

Today, because of our ability to communicate instantly with so many on the internet, allows for contention to spread to thousands, even millions. In the past, while it caused harm, and serious problems, today it is magnified a hundredfold.

There is no way out of this quagmire, and it may lead to the ending of society as we know it, and the destruction of most of us living today. Too pessimistic? I wish it were. It is believed that we are guided by logic and rational thought. I see no proof of that, I see a world caught up in a whirlwind of emotions, and reactions, with just a touch of rational thought and logic to slow down our downward spiral to further chaos. We are however speeding towards a crash landing.

The best aspects of religion and politics can give us some light on this matter, but it is seldom followed, I believe that we are too short-sighted for that.


When we do not love, listen, or respect others, we sin. Whatever is not of love, is sin. Whatever leads to chaos, pain, and destruction is sin. Sin is short-sighted, wants a quick fix, and does not listen to others. I believe that we are all infected by this, I have met no exceptions. Those who know this, perhaps fight against it, and with grace progress is made. Those who do not, cannot face what is inside their souls, and cannot seek healing, redemption, responsibility, and most importantly, mercy and forgiveness. Mercy can only come with confession and self-knowledge. Without that, we are caught in an eternal wheel of pain, violence, and death.

People can’t afford an apartment even when they have jobs. People have jobs but still, live in their cars. Yet, in certain areas, they want to outlaw people from doing that. Yes, we do have a long way to go to live out what we proclaim we believe.

When faith becomes an ideology, it is doomed. Faith is open to the work of God in the world, and the humility to admit we do not have all the answers. Yet we are called to serve, love, and yes, to pray, and speak the truth in gentleness, respect, and love as the Scriptures counsel us to do (Ephesians 4:15). Ideologies are closed systems, and in the end they will die.

Lord, teach us to seek mercy and to give it-Br.MD

Trust

Trust

by Marco M. Pardi

Trust, v. To lay oneself open to deception.” Victor I. Cahn. The Disrespectful Dictionary.

Trust in God but tie your camel”. Arab saying.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

That he was being watched was not surprising. But Tonio had to wonder if the interest was simply routine to detect something or focused to confirm something. If the former, no problem. If the latter, big problem. His assigned interpreter, Kamran, a graduate student at Azerbaijan University of Languages in Baku and undoubtedly an officer in the Dövlət Təhlükəsizlik Xidməti, or State Security Service, came alongside him, smiling as always.

Tonio moved so he could quickly examine the two men who had entered with his mark. Over Kamran’s shoulder he noted these were not the usual types, stacks of muscle topped by a solid round bone; they were lean and built as if from braided steel, one staying near the mark while the other circulated to be ready to respond from an unexpected direction. Professionals. He could not determine their ages in years, but their faces indicated they had lived every day of them.

As he circulated among the guests, drinking his tonic water and lime, smiling and speaking through Kamran, he reviewed the possibilities. To his knowledge only three senior executives knew of the existence of the – maybe – five other specialists and two of those executives refused any and all knowledge of the identities and specific actions of the unit. Plausible deniability. The department which created his legend, complete with rudimentary family tree, birth certificate, schooling, and passport knew nothing about him. They simply erected a phantom. That left only the one executive as a source of a possible leak. Yet, he had known that man for years, and had been personally recruited by him. “You’re like a brother to me, Tonio. But if the order comes I’d kill you in a heartbeat.” Never. No, NEVER trust anyone completely.

Trust is such an amorphous concept. It can be applied to the intangible, the ethereal, such as Fate, the future. Or, it can be applied to the very specific, the minuscule stent placed in a coronary artery. A miscalculation in either case may yield a result with no second chances. When you drive onto the highway at night do you trust in Fate, or in your brake pads? Will you see in time that oncoming wrong-way driver with his headlights out? Speaking of which, I, like so many other children at the time, heard the advice to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Bible. Proverbs 3:5-6. God the traffic cop. We can only hope that also applies to the other guy.

We go to bed at night and let ourselves fall asleep, trusting that we will wake up. Remember that comforting little child’s prayer, “….if I should die before I wake…”? Pleasant dreams.

Apparently trust can be applied fully, partially, or conditionally. Ronald Reagan enshrined this when he confronted the leader of the then Soviet Union and repeatedly said “Trust, but verify” An untold number of Americans seem to still think he dreamed that up. I was amused at the time, when it seemed he was throwing an old Russian proverb, “doveryai, no proveryai”, back at a Russian.

Of course, there can be times when you find yourself working for someone you do not trust at all. It’s possible to do this so long as you remember the saying, le plus on leur baise le cul, le plus ils nous chient sur la tete.

It is interesting to inventory the various things, events, and people we place some degree of trust in every day, and night. Recently I read a column in which a woman was gushing about how her enormous boa constrictor liked to stretch out next to her on the bed at night and sleep. She was so thrilled by its love. A herpetologist responded that it more likely was measuring her for a meal.

I get that physics informs us we humans are 99.99999% empty space (I can think of some that exceed even that) and that even the hardest substance known to us is composed of sub-atomic particles/waves that are further apart relative to their size than the stars in the visible universe. But I still trust that when I sit on a chair I won’t fall through.

So we live in a constellation of trusts, stronger with some, lesser with others, like a multitude of rubber bands of varying strength. I read of a race car driver who said he felt safer on the track than on the road; “At least we’re all driving in the same direction.” But how long do we maintain that uniform direction when in a relationship? Did we initially state and agree upon what we thought was our ultimate destination? Did we factor in side trips along the way? Over the years I’ve known several married couples. A few long term couples are still in their first marriage. Do they seem unusual? Then again there are those couples in which one or both cited marital infidelity as causing the break up of their previous marriage. Yeah, that would be a deal breaker for me, too, either way. And I would be up front about it. Still, how much of our autonomy do we surrender on entering a relationship? And what happens if, during a relationship, we discover we truly want more autonomy? Some of us may have had careers which put potential partners at risk, even severe risk. Do we add that as a footnote to the marriage proposal? *Oh, by the way……that ’til death do us part bit……

Some trust relationships have term limits. We call these “political office”. We agree to place a person in a position of power for a period of time on the condition that they basically maintain the direction we found them in when they gained our trust. But as they ascend to higher and more complicated positions of power are they there on the basis of our trust or on the basis of our ignorance?

In the late 1970’s a B movie actor named Ronald Reagan went from Governor of California to President of the United States largely on a trust winning grandfatherly “Heh, heh” and “There you go again”. He spoke glowingly of America as a “shining city on a hill”. Yet, when he got to Capitol Hill his regime canceled the CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System), a government function, and replaced it with FERS (Federal Employee Retirement System) outsourced to Wall Street. Under his political party protective regulations were rolled back across the board and a doctrine called Citizens United was put in place. This essentially allowed the companies which had benefited enormously from federal retirement money pouring into them largely unfettered ability to repay the favor with enormous contributions to the elections of his political party, ensuring that these companies would continue to benefit long into the future, enriching their stockholders along the way. In short, Reagan’s shining city on a hill was a Potemkin Village built on the architecture of pure and fundamental Fascism. This same political party has devised efforts to do the same with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid: Privatize and deregulate.

Not long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union a rising star named Vladimir Putin came to power. An astute student of the United States during his KGB career he copied the strategy of privatizing and deregulating industries and utilities which had been State owned. (I wonder where he got that idea) He and his friends and supporters thus “purchased” these for pennies on the dollar, and siphoned off earnings calculated presently at one trillion dollars. They sheltered their plunder in foreign registered mega-yachts, mansions, and commercial property in other countries. Today we call these people the Oligarchs. What’s interesting is the sparse discussion of these people, and this strategy, in U.S. media. Is there someone here we shouldn’t be trusting? Or are we too busy “streaming” inane television programs?

Most recently, in the run-up to the 2020 Presidential election, this party, fearful that competent voters would avail themselves of Mail-In voting during a deadly pandemic, replaced the Director of the Post Office with a crony who promised to disrupt, delay, and disorganize postal delivery, thereby ensuring that mail-in ballots would arrive too late if they arrived at all. The long term plan, publicly approved by many in that particular political party, was to so erode trust in “the government” that the public would overwhelmingly approve of the privatization and deregulation of the U.S. Postal Service. And the friend of the then President, the crony he put in charge, was first in line to make the purchase. Did it still make sense to use terms such as Russian President and American President when there was no daylight between them?

Having trust in someone or something is certainly comforting. Feeling able to express feelings and concerns openly is a large part of that. Years ago a private four year college asked me to teach some courses in Marriage and the Family. I did so. During the semester we examined marriage from several angles, including the preparatory stage. I discussed the merits of Pre-Nuptial Agreements. These commonly stipulate “who gets what” in the event of a divorce. In each class several students expressed disapproval, their reasoning being that such a concept diluted the romance of the upcoming marriage. So let’s look at this.

If you and your partner to be are strict adherents to a “’til death do us part” group, and you are convinced you both will follow this no matter what may happen, this may not apply. But that pledged was formed when life expectancy was very much lower and opportunities for meeting others and communicating were far fewer. Saying at 20 that you know what your life will be like at 40 is foolish at best. Many people now marry in their twenties and early thirties, with a longer life expectancy and greatly enhanced mobility and social contacts. So, the likelihood of circumstances threatening the continuation of the marriage is greatly increased. Such a commitment, ’til death do us part, thus speaks of what may be the greatest act of trust a person may engage in: trust of the partner, and trust of the self. Divorce statistics indicate that trust is misplaced. Add to that the number of people who remain together “for the sake of the children”, for financial reasons, for social/religious reasons, or just a fear of living alone.

A common perception of a “Pre-Nup” is that it is an instrument of denial, denying the spouse of certain assets and other valuables. In fact, jointly written, it is an instrument of entitlement, committing to contract certain assets and other valuables. Divorce attorneys are on the hourly clock. A hassle over who gets the $1,000 85” flat screen (now depreciated to $300) quickly turns that flat screen into a two or three thousand dollar booby prize. Thus, the Pre-Nup serves as the basis for a final settlement, avoiding possibly many thousands in unnecessary negotiations. Couples may lump items in categories or may itemize them. I know a couple with a 17 page, single spaced Pre-Nup. That’s probably a bit much.

Summer’s coming on, and people will be flocking to the beautiful beaches around the world. Having SCUBA dived off some of these coasts I can tell you of the municipal sanitary sewage pipes running out offshore beneath those picturesque waters. One place put me in mind of Astrud Gilberto’s famous song, but I modified the lyrics: ……the girl from Treponema goes walking, and when she walks you gasp at how thin she is….

Well, all this talk about trust has me wondering if you trust this site. One thing you will not hear me say, or read from me, is: Trust Me.

A Deadly Mix

A Deadly Mix: Religion and Politics and Patriarch Krill and Putin.

By Brother Mark Dohle

Our Guest Post is by Brother Mark Dohle, a man I have known for over twenty years. Soon after completing an enlistment in the U.S. Navy Mark entered the Cistercian monastic order. Although a young man at the time, he had seen much of the world and chose to devote his life to spiritual contemplation. Unlike the mistaken image many have of monks, Brother Mark has been active in considering the findings of science, the realities – hidden and obvious – of politics, and especially the ways we humans live and die.

In this piece Br. Mark is discussing the recent coverage of the relationship of the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Moscow to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and his ongoing genocide in Ukraine. Just as importantly, Br. Mark is discussing a problem, the relationship of Church and State, as it is found in many societies including the United States. (MMP)

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. If there is truth to the saying, The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword it is because people like us read, consider, and exchange our thoughts with others. (MMP)

When a government, and the church become one, there is only trouble brewing.  In a church that is either run by the state, or works as an equal partner with the prevailing government, it will draw into its ranks men who want power, they become no different than politicians.  The religious nature of their calling may still be important, but in reality it is not central.

Patriarch Krill is the supposed spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Yet his real loyalty is to his country, as well as with Putin.  They are partners.  That is why you can see a religious leader encouraging the total destruction of other people.  The real horror is that God is brought into the picture.

Pictures are shown where priest are blessing weapons, tanks, and solders who are attacking a country that was no threat, and committing genocide with the blessing of Patriarch Krill.  

In the Catholic Church our history has many dark epochs, the darkest is when church and state were one.  Today in the Church, because we do not have political clout, and are not being used by the state, a different sort of man will want to become a priest and religious leader.  The kind of power the Krill has is not present in the Catholic Church.  Yes there is still corruption in the church, and it will always be so, yet at this time, no Pope would ever give support to the destruction of other people, or an unjust attack.

Yet, why are so many people surprised, or shocked?  It is a tragic sad situation and will lead to only more bloodshed, but surprised?  The young Russian men are doing the atrocities, will after returning home wake up to what they have done, and will have to live with it.  Many will live lives of deep regret.  Many will shorten their lives through addiction, and suicide.  While the leaders, both the religious, and political, because they did not dirty their hands will be at peace.  Yet this is not something new.  As a species we are very unstable when it comes to living out what we profess we believe.

Every once in a while people will ask me if I think that I am a good person. My response is ‘no’.  They ask me why.  I respond that I am not a good person, because every day I have to struggle to make the just and loving choices.  I fail, and begin again. 

I am not good, nor am I evil, yet I have a tendency to move in the direction of chaos and self-destruction if I do not keep on the path of seeking God and loving others.  It is a lifelong commitment, which does get easier over time, yet still a struggle.

So Putin and Patriarch Krill’s actions, and religious teachings on what they are doing does not surprise me.  It saddens me, and I can see myself doing the very same thing if I was part of the situation and grew up in Russia.  Which saddens me more, but not surprised at what I know I am capable of doing.

We are not a rational species, yet we try to be.  We are emotional, we can tend to react, and if we think things through, the curse of “confirmation bias” plays a big role.  It is almost impossible to break away into a system of doing things that are actually rational, as well as deeply spiritual.  It is call the “Sermon on the Mount”.—Br.MD

Rent Past Due

RENT PAST DUE

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Still unsure of why he had received the invitation to the Diplomatic reception, Tonio moved carefully among the guests, watching for the roaming servers with their platters of drinks and hors d’oeuvres. He well knew every one of the young and attractive women and men were professional intelligence officers, hearing and remembering snippets of conversation, assessing relationships, noting drinking behaviors. Tonio felt a bit out of sorts in a quickly rented suit, not quite the de rigueur uniform of the evening, but he told himself it would fit with his legend as a Doctoral student working on his dissertation. He would have to actually write one some day but a partially written manuscript and several overflowing notebooks had always proved convincing. He also felt unease after coming through the metal detectors and submitting to a thorough pat-down. He remembered those dreams of discovering himself naked while lecturing his class. But that search procedure was SOP in embassies these days.

He glanced up to see a pair of breasts, followed by a stunning young woman, enter the room. Her diaphanous gown, not helpful in the sukhoveyi blowing outside, obviated the need for pat-downs but her stiletto heels looked lethal. Pudgy diplomats, consular officers and aides swiveled as wives stepped closer to provide them with more attention than they had received in months. Tonio could almost hear multiple prostate glands awakening after long slumbers.

Tonio’s apprehension proved accurate as a man stepped in behind her. Expensively dressed, late middle-aged, and experienced looking, he was a rogue former officer from the Agency, lately rising to the top levels of international arms dealers and rumored to be shopping loose nukes. Tonio’s mark. Tonio wondered how much he paid to “rent” this young woman, for that’s surely all it was. He did not fear the man would recognize him as Tonio was one of only a handful of specialists who never entered headquarters or any American embassies. But then it came to him. Someone was watching for his reaction. Fortunately, as a child in the face of withering criticism from nuns, he had adopted the life-long mannerism of flat affect. Thank you, Sisters.

You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Heard that one? Of course, I wondered who wants more flies? But we’ve noticed something; there are far fewer insects around. Pesticides, pollution, and climate change, all doings of humans. An international survey has found that from 1970 to 2010 world wildlife has declined by over 60%. And those insects? They are the bulk of the diet for birds and a multitude of other animals, large and small. The anteater is no small animal and not one we normally see roaming our yards, but we think of ants as pests to be stepped on, sprayed or baited with poison. Yet an ecological history of the world clearly shows us that we and most large animals would not be here were it not for ants, who continually churn the soil, preventing it from baking solid and becoming inhospitable to the plants which form the bulk of the diet for animals as large as elephants and as varied as primates, of which we are one. Ants also play a major role in cleaning the environment of decaying matter, reducing the probabilities of pathogens developing among the microbes forming the greatest magnitude and variety of life on the Earth. In fact, looking at the world as an ecological unit we see a fundamental principle at work: To get something, you must be prepared to give something in return. We humans have gotten much from this Earth. Sustenance, comfort, the ability to move great distances, the ability to reproduce in alarming numbers. We have exploited countless animal, vegetable, and mineral species. What have we given in return?

I have written several times of the damages we have caused, and which are accelerating day after day. Any readers who are even dimly aware are more than familiar with the seemingly endless examples and proofs of this abuse. I won’t repeat that here. Instead, I want to examine three popular positions which are at least impeding efforts to rectify the abuse and demonstrably worsening its continuation.

By far, the oldest position is that held by the religions jointly known as The People of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While it is true that there are enlightened individuals* within each who are aware of the damage being wrought, (information appended) the fundamental premise held by all three is that a Supreme Being – by various names – created the Earth and all that is upon it and gave humans Dominion over it. Yet, while this mandate is made clear, there are few or no discussions of operating rules and instructions beyond the Go forth and multiply known to so many – too many. Whether there is or isn’t such a supreme being is for the reader to decide; the issue of concern here is the use to which this being is put in the furtherance of those behaviors which result from ignorance, stupidity, greed, gluttony, quest for power, or just the basics of what is considered a comfortable life.

Unlike the various pantheist belief systems found throughout the world, the People of the Book invented a mythology which accords an immortal soul, or spark of divinity to humans, but not to non-human life forms of any kind. This distinction became the foundation for utter exploitation, unspeakable cruelty, and extinction causing damage to any form of non-human life. (Unnoticed by many, while in the Garden Adam and Eve were apparently vegan.) Even today there are “scientists” who subscribe to the view that humans are the pinnacle of creation.

Underlying this foundation is the insidious belief that human presence on Earth is just a trial, a place to learn some divine curriculum so we can then progress to our true home, which is not of this Earth. And each of these three mythical systems has its End Times literature involving the apocalyptic misery and death of all life on Earth. Just passing through. We can’t be concerned with the destruction in our wake. And, a small but vocal element particularly within Christianity, believes that the supreme being will intervene – Divine Intervention – before the Earth is totally ruined. After all, in their view the entire universe is only a backdrop for the prized creation we call Earth.

A second position is held and espoused by people who seem possibly to have had a Physical Science course in junior high school. Maybe. Or, in reading their comic books and watching old Flintstones cartoon re-runs they were exposed to simplistic “geologic history”. They learned of geologic epochs, major extinction events, radical shifts in climate and, for the really advanced learners, periodic wobbles of the Earth on its axis. Thus armed with “indisputable evidence” they proclaim that the climate changes we are now seeing are simply part of natural cyclical events and are not the result of human activity.

While the evidence of natural events, including cycles, is obviously there, any trial attorney will tell you the value of evidence lies in the hands of the user.

A third and rapidly growing position is one which is very likely unknown to many people. It could be said to be an extension of the second position, cited above, were it not for its applications elsewhere. It is known by the term applied to its followers: “DOOMERS”. Haven’t heard of it? Go ahead, Google Doomer. I’ll wait………..

Doomers have been around perhaps as long as humans have noticed threatening events in their environment, whether volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, comets, or politicians. In recent times we’ve seen them build crude to elaborate bomb shelters during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, we’ve seen the stupendous market value of Survivalist paraphernalia including dehydrated food, bottled water and firearms, and the surge in off-road capable vehicles – 95% of which never leave the roadway except by accident. None of the aforementioned materials were cheap, so there is likely a certain amount of welcome to the dire reports coming out frequently about environmental collapse. So, having missed out on Divine Rapture, nuclear winter, and invasion by foreign job seekers focus may then be turned to planetary environmental catastrophe. The position is that, whether through the divine fury of a loving god or through the natural processes of an uncaring Mother Nature those guys on the streets with The End Is Near signs are right. This justifies keeping all that material in working order. See, I told ya’.

The economic benefit Doomers provide by buying expensive stuff and building safe rooms and shelters is offset by the damage wrought by their message. Essentially, they are saying that regardless of cause there is no use in trying to contain or reverse environmental damage. It’s a Dance ‘Til You Die message. And, it’s based on an extremist interpretation of the data. The Environmental Defense Fund, in reviewing the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, quotes: “Accurate transference of the climate science has been undermined significantly by climate change counter-movements, in both legacy and new/social media environments through misinformation.” The EDF goes on to say, “The scientific community agrees that we already have the solutions and technology necessary to tackle climate change and, if we implement them quickly, we can avoid worst-case scenarios. Over 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming. It may be surprising, but many Americans still don’t know that there is so much evidence that humans are causing global warming that scientists have stopped arguing this point. In fact, most studies find around 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists. And the greater the climate expertise, the higher the consensus.

Although they may not always realize it, all three of the movements, groups, institutions cited above are well funded and supported by the industries most responsible for the damage being done to our planet, most notably the fossil fuel industries. They are knowingly playing to the tendency to say, “It isn’t my doing. What I do can’t make that much difference. I might as well enjoy life while I can and let someone else worry about it.”

Well, let me introduce myself: I’m that someone else. As a parent and grandparent I will not hand my descendants the damage caused by my inaction. As a resident of this planet I will not destroy the home shared by innumerable other residents, be they human or non-human, animal, vegetable, or mineral.

We’ve been living on this planet rent free for millennia. Our LandLady, Gaia, is serving us notice: RENT PAST DUE.

These posts are read in several countries though the responses tend to come from a steady group. If you are uncomfortable with or afraid to post a comment I would like to ask a small favor: Please forward this to someone who might respond.

Just one of many faith based organizations addressing climate change honestly. *Interfaith Power and Light
672 13th Street Suite 100 | Oakland, California 94612
510-444-4891 | info@interfaithpowerandlight.org

Happiness

Happiness

by Marco M. Pardi

The life of the intellect is the best and pleasantest for man, because the intellect more than anything else IS the man. Thus it will be the happiest life as well.” Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics 10.7

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Although I had heard this continually since childhood I was still a bit surprised when, in my mid-forties, I was told my staff of city, county state, and federal employees said my facial expression always looked “sad” or “unhappy” and it was affecting their morale. My response: “That’s the way my face hangs and I’m not getting plastic surgery.”

Among efforts at labeling human states, and even projected onto or detected in non-humans, happiness seems to come very close to leading the pack if it does not already do so. In the assignment I cited above I was the director of an epidemiology program addressing “Special Diseases”. We had a related component devoted to HIV/AIDS. The majority of our cases were connected to prostitution and I.V. needle sharing and other drug/alcohol usage. While some people automatically presume those are behaviors found only among low income, transient people our surveillance of public and private medical providers indicated otherwise. Therefore, I decided to venture into the domain of hospitals providing in-patient 28 day drug/alcohol treatment programs to assess and reach populations not commonly seen in pubic health settings. I specifically intended to offer free on-site confidential HIV testing, bracketed by pre and post test counseling and referral for services if needed. I obtained an on-site interview with the director of a major private hospital program.

Our meeting began in his office but soon included a tour of the facility. Everything was certainly “high end” and the staff were all well credentialed. Finally, we settled in the Group Therapy room. All the many chairs were faced toward one wall, as in a classroom. On that wall was a large poster chart with the heading How I Feel Now. Below that heading were columns of affective states such as: Tired; Sad; Confused; Hopeless; Lonely, and on and on for what were certainly more than fifty, all rather negative states. I was Put Off, but that wasn’t on the chart.

Perhaps the Director read my expression, or maybe he had been through this drill before. He explained that as group sessions began the therapist called for the group to study the list and pick a state they felt. Discussion would then ensue. I had assumed as much and was already thinking of my silent objections, which I would not voice. Questions like, What does “Now” mean?

Regular readers know I place very high value in Buddhist philosophy. In my view, which I share with others, Buddhism is not a religion, it is a means of self discovery in the sense of Ultimate Self and personal self all at once. As a tool it is like holding a child’s toy telescope in hand and when turned one way it opens to the macro universe and when turned the other it opens to the micro universe. Realization occurs when we become aware that we are a manifestation of At Onceness: the perception that macro and micro are separate and distinct is only a perception, a perspective emanating from how we hold the telescope. At any given moment what we perceive as an affective state contains its opposite; to exist, Up must contain Down, Here must contain There, Grief must contain Joy. An easy way to experience this reality is to SCUBA dive in salt water on a moonless night. Drop down about 100′ and set your BCD to hold your depth. With your light off so you don’t see your exhaust bubbles, roll around and then try to orient yourself to up and down. Yes, there’s that moment until you turn on your light and see which way your bubbles are going. Scary, isn’t it? Imagine being an astronaut in deep space.

Years ago, while examining my own experiences and pursuing my studies of how people dealt with theirs, especially the traumatic experiences, I concluded that many therapeutic models were structured toward an improper goal. They were designed to move a client from a disapproved state to an approved one, completely separating the two.

It has been said that a person cannot experience happiness unless and until they have experienced grief. This, then, tells me that to appreciate the measure of one we must be aware of the measure of the other. The Anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, in his seminal work Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge tells us that his informant, Don Juan, a Yaqui brujo, frequently reminded him that Death is always just over your left shoulder. In the same way, grievous experiences are always with us, forming the context from which we experience happiness. In contrast to the trite advice that It will get better I advised clients that it will NOT get better; They will get better at handling it. Heard the one about Forgive and Forget? Show of hands for those who think they have done either. I am not suggesting we walk around half aggrieved and half joyous. I am suggesting that we acknowledge and we own that part of our history which is as valid and contributory as any and every other part of our current reality. But doing so should not become a fixation. An example given to beginning students of Buddhist meditation is that of the monkey in the tree tops. Meditation is not a process of inducing coma. It is a process of seeing through both ends of the telescope at once, of seeing the infinite through the large and the small. As we open our minds in ALL directions we experience thoughts: Monkeys in the tree tops. The thoughts are there. The thoughts are memories, suppositions, conclusions, hopes, fears, and etc. But once we yield and chase the monkey the monkey turns and captures us; it becomes “the monkey on our back” as the old saying goes. Attempting to prevent that by banishing thought will not work, unless once has achieved senseless coma. In fact, “banishing thought” becomes just another monkey to chase, and we are off and running. Let the monkeys run. Recognize them in their context and let them go.

For over a month we’ve been watching Donald Trump’s mentor, Vladimir Putin, invade and devastate Ukraine. Every day and every night we see video footage of villages and whole cities, mostly civilian targets, destroyed. Those people that survive are fleeing with what they can carry in numbers not seen since WWII. As a parent and grandparent I am very deeply affected by what I see on the faces of all the people, adults and children alike. Perhaps more to the point, I am a child of war myself and, though far too young to actively “remember” the trauma, I lived with the familial effects well into my teen-age years.

I find myself watching cable news for updates, deeply aware that this is not a video game or a Super Bowl. This is horrible trauma being impressed upon people in ways we will not fully understand for years to come. Even if the attacks stopped today, what would the more than 3 ½ million refugees return to? Who will rebuild the homeland and will it be done such that later generations will wonder Did something happen here? In the 1960’s I was a guest in the home of a German physician who had been a military doctor in Hitler’s Werhmacht and a proud member of the NAZI party. Since he had shown me an elaborate album of photos I asked him about WWII. Each of us spoke only a few words of the other’s language and had no other in common. Yet, he managed to say “You wouldn’t understand”. Well, no, I think I would not have understood if he had tried to hand me a justification for what was done.

I have no doubt that every reader of this piece has a memory stored file of experiences spanning a broad spectrum from tragic to joyous. And, no, I don’t think we find many people, if any, who truly understand. But we go through our daily lives almost always without a sign, a “tell” as gamblers put it. Because daily life is a superficially neutral state. A person walking constantly about in apparent “happiness” is as suspect as one in apparently constant grief. Something is off center.

Readers of my column know I have a fairly extensive list of subjects I carry on about, sometimes in ways some people find unpleasant. I confess: I hope to disturb people into action. Let’s take a lesson from The Time Machine and remember that the blissful Eloi were eaten by the not so blissful Morlocks. Happiness can be pleasant, even productive, if experienced and understood in a context of justified cost.

Name Game

Name Game

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

I have long been interested in how people devised and carried on their names. I was a couple of months short of six years old when I first encountered “American” names. But then, those encounters seemed to have been the first with a “foreign” name for some of the other kids. Seventy three years later I still encounter people who, on hearing my first name or last name, trot out some play on a historical figure or on a word, then bray like demented donkeys over their presumably original cleverness. Flat affect settles that, though I discovered that only sometime after my youth.

So I listened to names, not with the intent to make fun of them but rather to understand how they originated. Of course, at that time I also took interest in why we use the words we do for anything. Coming to the South years later I learned that some people never seem to get the names of some basic things straight. For example, some fellow students asked me if I had a spare “ink pen”, or I thought they said pen. I finally asked one what other kind of pen there is. She answered, straight pin, safety pin, bobby pin and was thinking of more when I pointed out pen versus pin. It turned out she was far from the only one with this issue and others like it. Another “Southernism” I learned, which is now mainstream as the name of a popular game, was “corn hole”. In the late 1950’s I was talking with a couple of boys from Alabama as they were discussing the difficulty of getting reliable contraceptives. Finally one of them said, Well you can just corn hole. I asked what that meant and was told that people with outhouses for toilets put a bucket of water and corn cobs cleaned of their kernels in the outhouse. After a bowel movement they use a water softened corn cob to clean themselves. The anus is thus known as a (noun) corn hole and anal sex is referred to as (verb) corn hole. This valuable, and disgusting, information had been stored in a deep recess in my mind until recently when I saw advertisements for a game using an inclined board with holes cut in it for contestants to play a game called “corn hole”, throwing a bean bag in hopes of getting it through a hole. Stunned? Yes. Then I thought it was a joke. But it seems to be quite popular. One part of me wants to think that someone behind this game actually knows the origin of the term and is playing on the ignorance of the public. Another part of me insists that common usage has become so crude that no one objects to getting the kids out on the lawn for a rousing game of anus toss.

But returning to names for people, I began to realize many common last names denote or derive from an occupation. Carter, Smith, Baker, Boatwright, Wheeler, and on and on speak to some point in the past when the progenitor of that family line was a practitioner of that trade. I even had a primary school classmate with the last name Pilot. No, I didn’t ask him if his ancestor prosecuted Jesus but I did wonder at what, specifically, was being piloted so long ago. Much later, I had a college student with the actual last name Outhouse. In that case, and several others like it, I wondered how the child bearing that name survived and why they didn’t have their name changed. Long before I met that student I had wondered, given what I had gone through with my name, how some people maintain their name when it is clearly susceptible to cruel misuse. Another student announced in class that she was in the process of having her first name legally changed. She felt that, named Shequitha, she had no likely prospects of even getting an interview for a decent job. She specifically called her name a “ghetto name”. She was probably right about the interviews. But the African-American population in general has names, particularly last names, which go back only a few generations and came from someone else. During the 1960’s leaders like Malcolm X exhorted fellow Black Americans to reject their “slave names” and forge new identities and lineages based on heritage. A problem arose when people did not know how to acquire a name from one of the more than 500 different sub-Saharan cultures and began making up names or borrowing from other cultures such as classical Greeks, Romans and modern day French.

Of course, borrowing names from other cultures can be tricky. A former Secretary-General of the United Nations was a Burmese man known by the singular name Thant. In referring to him one commonly used the Burmese honorific U, somewhat equivalent to Mister. But those unfamiliar with the Burmese language took this to be his first name, thereby often introducing him as Mr. U Thant – or Mister Mister Thant.

Watching what is currently happening in Ukraine, and by extension in the surrounding countries accepting refugees, I am reminded of the aftermath of WWII. As the Soviet armies swept westward across Europe many thousands of people feared being stuck behind what Churchill later called “The Iron Curtain”. They dropped everything including identity papers if they had them and fled west, ahead of the Soviets, hoping to make it into the sector controlled by the Allies. As they did so they were settled into D.P. Camps (Displaced Persons). The Allies and the Soviets reached an agreement that each side would return to the other side those who ethnically and actually belonged there. Multi-lingual intelligence officers circulated among the D.P.s listening to conversations and interviewing those they suspected of being on the wrong side. So, fearing their names would betray their ethnicity many shorted or otherwise altered them. They spoke as little as possible and attempted to speak the languages of the areas they claimed to be from. Western officers, knowing what awaited those they sent to the Soviets, often accepted the obvious ruse. But then, with each such acceptance of a person with an altered name something happened: Fission. That is, a lineage which may have been many generations old suddenly stopped and a new one arose. And, especially when they were resettled in another country they altered their names again to “fit in” among the locals. Or, their names where altered by Immigration officials simply too tired to struggle with the spelling of a name they could not understand. I’ve met several people who confided to me that their current name is such a derivation.

Obviously, there is no such critical need for this fission to occur among the Ukrainians who have fled Ukraine. Some may choose to do so simply out of personal comfort but it is highly unlikely to be forced upon them.

There can be other reasons for name changes. For many years the President of what was then Yugoslavia was known as Tito. His actual name was Josip Broz, but as a communist in hiding from the Nazis he followed standard Party procedure and adopted one pseudonym after another. Tito stuck. There is even a legend about the name, suggesting it is a Croatian term meaning “Do it” and deriving from his habitually decisive commands to his subordinates. Another legendary name was Joseph Stalin, or Iosif Djugashvili. Known throughout the world as Joseph Stalin, Djugashvili is thought to have taken the pseudonym Stalin, meaning steel in the Georgian language, to identify himself with Lenin. Hence, the legend arose that he was “the man of steel”.

It seems that sometimes there is a feeling that behavioral characteristics pass down through families. Names have been changed to avoid association with some well known ancestor. Some of us don’t particularly mind. My mother’s side of the family includes inter-marriage with the Machiavelli family. I’m pretty sure that’s not obvious to people who have met me. Oh. So now it is. Okay.

In the Intelligence Community, case officers assigned to Embassies under the guise of Cultural Attache or Economic Attache or something else but tasked with the recruitment of locals as agents never disclose their true names to agents. They use pseudonyms in case the agent is a “dangle” – an operative for the other side, or the agent is caught and interrogated. So, you’ve got to live much of your life under an assumed identity.

On a more common level I’ve often wondered at how American women feel when they are expected to take the last name of a husband at marriage. I could not imagine such a change for myself, yet we as a society seem to take it for granted. In the 1960’s and 1970’s an increasing amount of women refused to do so, retaining their “maiden” name. Others hyphenated the names as is common in some European countries. But then the phenomenon of on-line banking arose. Many banks and credit unions include “Mother’s Maiden Name” among their required security questions. Wise people do not make such information public.

The fact that women change their last names at marriage makes them hard to track. John Smith is John Smith no matter how many times he marries and divorces. Not so with many women as, even after a divorce she may elect to keep the marital name “for the sake of the children”.

Furthermore, I’ve heard dismay, even anger, within families that do not produce a male heir to “carry on the family name”. I did not do so, nor will I. After the trauma of divorce and loss of custody I determined I would never risk putting another child through that horror and I got a vasectomy. End of the line as far as my contribution to the family lineage. But I care more about children than I do about a name and lineage on a paper.

How about you, Reader?

Lessons

Lessons

by Marco M. Pardi

Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.” Samuel Johnson 1751

All comments are greatly welcomed and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Yeah. Capital punishment. That oughta teach ’em.” Tricia Nixon, daughter of then President Richard M. Nixon.

I remember being stunned silent by the “logic” portrayed in that utterance. But then, she was an ardent Republican, a cult not known for intellectual development. Nevertheless, as a first time parent and a relatively new college instructor it set me to thinking about other concepts of lessons. Until the age of 15, when I dropped the pretense of believing in a religion, I had been schooled by teachers who, despite their subject, found ways to inform and remind us that we all were born into Original Sin, condemned to Hell by Eve’s gustatory mistake unless we were absolved through a very specific line of baptism. Wait a minute. Wasn’t that Eve’s lesson to learn? How did I get dragged into this? So some guy commits a murder and we all have to line up for a seat on Old Sparky? It seemed that someone was conflating lesson with punishment. And when did group punishment become acceptable, beyond the actions of dictatorships on battlefields? At least the Romans practiced decimation. When a legion showed cowardice in battle the survivors were formed in ranks and every 10th man was killed, coward or not. And no one called it anything other than punishment. After all, it’s hard to say a dead man learned his lesson. Maybe the survivors learned a lesson. Those of us experienced in combat learned early that you can’t hurt a dead guy anymore, or teach him new tricks.

Around the same time the Nixon crowd was in the White House the “New Age” movement was quickly growing. Well, why not? In VietNam General Westmoreland had us looking for the light at the end of the tunnel – which turned out to be an oncoming NVA battalion. President Nixon was telling us that ketchup was a vegetable. And something is not illegal if the President does it. Disney World was opening in Central Florida. The ultra fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell started his Moral Majority (it was neither) movement and one-stop mega churches sprouted across the land like hallucinogenic mushrooms while televangelists bilked stay-at-home old folks out of their Social Security checks. The Scopes Trial was revisited as schools were pressured to give equal time to “Intelligent Design”. It was an era of Pick Your Fantasy.

But the New Age movement brought in a revised curriculum, revised because it altered a core religious idea (life’s purpose as a physical classroom to develop a spiritual entity, your soul, through certain approved lessons) and turned it to their own purposes. Whole forests fell to the demands of publishers hawking books on life’s purpose, and buying such books was high on many a list. I, however, had different priorities.

While taking a graduate course in Criminology I spent some time with road crew chain gangs in a Southern state. Group punishment was enforced on them when one of them, out hacking weeds with the crew, attempted escape. Sometimes one or more prisoners were unshackled so they could get into the sloping weeds. Of course, a guard on a horse could ride them down or shoot them before they got far. But the thinking was that the others must have known of the escapee’s intent and, not having snitched on him, they were deserving of punishment. That seemed to work, though it must also have inspired the escapee to try harder since he didn’t want a beating once returned to the prison. Logic. Not exactly a pleasant way to employ logic, but there it is.

More peaceful opportunities to employ logic presented themselves in the form of physicians I knew in one context or another. Several of them were very highly ranked in their field. Yet, although religion seldom came up I knew a few of them were devout believers, even some in what are considered the more primitive forms of religion, such as absolutely literal belief in the Bible.

These few devout physicians bothered me. Even those who believed in mainline religions seemed puzzling. I knew they must have been exposed to science at some point in their education, yet at least a couple of them believed the universe and all that’s in it was created in six days, all current life forms descended from those forms lucky enough to score tickets for Noah’s cruise ship, a virginal woman in the Middle-East got impregnated by a god and delivered a god. Something just didn’t make sense. But then……………the clouds parted and a thought came down.

These people weren’t scientists; they were highly skilled technicians. They were excellent at applying the lessons learned for them by scientists but they were not scientists. And that was a lesson for me.

Others, specifically the mega church pastors cited above, seemed to have learned a lesson as well. Thumbing through my worn copy of Lord Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy I again came across his explanation of how the early rock stars of science, Kepler, Newton et al, pulled us from the abyss of the Dark Ages. Remember the Holy Roman Empire, the seamless blend of singular and dogmatic theology with autocratic politics? Russell explains how The Reformation fractured the hold the Roman Church had on Europe, allowing the formation of multiple dissenting churches, each too weak to control national politics in their home countries as the Roman Church had for so long. Thus, more books were published and fewer developing scientists went up in smoke at the stake.

But it seems no good lesson goes unturned into nefarious ends. Falwell proclaimed credit, largely due, for getting the Ronald Reagan cult into the White House by absorbing the then Republican party as a largely owned subsidiary. But the power brokers in the Evangelical movement realized their lasting strength could come only from the ground up. They began infiltrating local school boards, library boards, county commissions, election boards, local media and all other institutions of influence on the public mind. As national media conglomerates expanded and solidified more and more local markets found themselves narrowed into echo chamber offerings which, in the case of television, became peppered with “eye candy” faux journalists and college drop-outs.

Furthermore, long sworn denominational enemies who had engaged in some of the bloodiest internecine warfare in history, overcame their animus through discovery of common ground: abortion, contraception, and the threat logical science posed to their fantasies. The growing distrust and outright hostility to science played well for the primary funders of the Republican Party, the fossil fuel industry, and its cover up of the deadly climate change they well knew was coming.

Once again the stage was set for holy combat with science and the dangerous powers of the free and logical intellect. Today we are seeing books and videos banned, even burned in a reenactment of Fahrenheit 451. I remember the priest announcing the weekly book and movie ban at each Sunday Mass during the 1950’s. As far as I know, the Roman church stopped doing that as they might have noticed how it boosted sales. Today no conscious person can have missed the furor over “Critical Race Theory” in K-12 schools, a non-issue since almost no one knows what it really is and it isn’t taught below the college level. Several States have re-engineered their voting laws to ensure that people likely to vote Democrat, and thus support efforts to curb climate change, are less able to vote. Draconian anti-abortion and even anti-contraception laws are proliferating across those same States. But the Ring Which Binds Them All, at least for now, is the issue of common sense defenses against a very dangerous and easily transmitted virus.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against stupid people dying. I do have an issue with stupid people seriously damaging or killing those who try to act responsibly. I have an issue with stupid people filling up hospitals and thereby denying needed care to those with serious chronic or emergency conditions. I do have an issue with stupid people conflating freedom with lack of responsibility.

So what lesson do I take from this? Keep my mouth shut and my head down, or speak out? I hope you are asking yourselves the same.

Best Friend

by

Yesterday I went for a meaningful drive and walk with my best friend.  It was a beautiful day for an adventure – the kind of day and weather I knew he would appreciate.  

Even though Billie was with me in spirit only, I felt his presence yesterday as I do in this moment.  He is still a source of peace, comfort, unconditional love, and laughter.  So much has happened since he crossed the Rainbow Bridge five years ago, and the nine years we spent together were also filled with an incredible amount of change.  Yet without question life was always better, easier, and happier with my best friend at my side.  

Yesterday’s anniversary and our adventure were deeply emotional as I knew they would be.  I missed the loved ones I wished could be there to share the day.  It seems forever ago we went on “pack walks” as a family foursome.  Yet I’m grateful to have so many wonderful memories, and to have loved ones to miss at all. 

The wind finally carried a small portion of Billie’s cremains through the trees and over his favorite grassy hill.  He loved sliding and rolling down that hill, cooling himself off in the lush green grass.  I thought about the countless times we sat together in silence on that same spot.  Billie was a true introvert – something we shared in common.  We could say so much without saying anything at all.  And although I couldn’t rest against him as I used to do, I was resting there with him regardless.  

Billie loved me like no one else ever has, even though I could never hide any of my flaws from him.  It wasn’t his duty to protect me, but he assumed that role as he matured.  He sincerely cared about my safety and well-being.  And he taught me so much, helping me to adapt to change while reminding me to live in the moment. 

There will undoubtedly be future furry rescue companions to share my life again.  And I know Billie would want that for me as much as I do too.  But he will forever remain the best friend I’ve ever had. 

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